Written by: Mark Locklear UNCP
PEMBROKE – A UNC Pembroke student and recent graduate spent their summer break applying their classroom knowledge in real-world experiences through an internship at a high-level aerospace engineering company in Alabama with Pembroke roots.
Sheila Cummings, president and CEO of Cummings Aerospace, is a former UNCP student and member of the Lumbee Tribe. The Pembroke native’s company is regarded as a leading provider of high-value engineering solutions for complex systems in the aerospace and defense industry.
With a desire to give back and inspire the next generation to pursue their passions, Cummings welcomed two UNCP interns this summer to her Alabama headquarters where they had the experience of a lifetime.
Senior Ben Savage and 2020 graduate Dillon Terry participated in a 10-week internship at Cummings Aerospace which specializes in tactical and ballistic missile systems engineering.
Savage, a member of UNCP’s 3-plus-2 engineering program is completing an engineering internship. Terry, who earned an Information Technology degree in May, is wrapping up an intensive cybersecurity program. Both are from Fayetteville, NC.
“I love it here!” Savage said. “It’s been very motivating to my future to get a glimpse of what a day in the life of an engineer working within the defense industry is like. I have had the opportunity to sit in on meetings to see how these engineers work together on team projects. It has been an awesome experience.
“I have learned so much,” Savage continued. “I’ve had the chance to meet a variety of engineers and ask questions about the defense industry. These engineers have motivated me and given me advice for my future. Through research and my presentations, I have been able to improve my communication skills, researching methods, and public speaking skills. “
In addition to day-to-day assignments, Savage is conducting research and development on a concept UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), commonly known as a drone.
“It’s definitely been a new experience for me – eye opening. I’m really thankful for Ms. Sheila Cummings for the on-the-job experience she is giving to UNCP students.”
Having the opportunity to interact and learn from information technology professionals has allowed Terry to not only sharpen his technical abilities but also hone his critical thinking and problem-solving ability. The hands-on experience, he says, is providing him with the foundational skills needed to land an entry-level position with an IT firm.
“I’ve had a phenomenal time here,” Terry said. “The guys here really care and strive to ensure you are successful. It has been a fantastic learning experience. The IT professionals at Cummings Aerospace go the extra mile to ensure I’m learning the real-world aspects of the field.”
Upon completing his applied physics degree at UNCP, Savage will continue the 3-plus-2 program at N.C. State in pursuit of a degree in engineering. He has his sights on a career in the defense industry.
“The UNCP students are making valued contributions on our Internal Research and Development program and our Information Technology/Cybersecurity operations,” Cummings said. “The hands-on experience they are gaining will greatly benefit their future careers. We look forward to hosting future interns from UNCP who are pursuing STEM careers.”
Cummings aspired to be an Air Force fighter pilot but was told by a recruiter they needed nurses not pilots—an experience that motivated her to achieve success, to have “fire in the belly” as she says and pursue her passions. And now, through internships like this one, Cummings can pass that lesson on to the next generation ready to break barriers.
Her path to entrepreneur and trailblazer began in the classrooms of UNC Pembroke before completing an aerospace engineering degree at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Following a successful career in government civilian service, she formed her own company–Cummings Aerospace–with locations in Alabama and Florida. More than a decade after its founding in 2009, her company has grown significantly and partners with the likes of Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and other major, multi-billion-dollar federal defense contractors.
Internships like Savage and Terry’s are part of a larger strategy to produce career-ready, academically successful students and graduates in STEM-related career fields.
Dr. Siva Mandjiny, professor and chair of the Chemistry and Physics Department says internship opportunities with successful companies like Cummings Aerospace and pathway partnerships with our sister institutions like N.C. State’s School of Engineering are driving popularity of his programs and producing results.
Last year, Dana Lamberton, the first of UNCP’s 3-plus-2 engineering students completed coursework at UNCP and began her studies at NC State to earn a mechanical engineering degree. And there are many more following in the footsteps of Lamberton and Savage.
Mandjiny is quick to note the quality program and exceptional value make UNCP a great choice for high-achieving students.
“And as a NC Promise campus, our students are provided with an affordable, high-quality education while remaining close to home. The cost-savings with programs designed to prepare students for career opportunities in STEM fields is a win-win.”
Mark Locklear is the public communications specialist for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
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